Carolyn Hax: Disliking dad may be coping tool

Carolyn Hax:

June 3, 2013 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn: I spent the weekend with my elderly parents and was overwhelmed with anger and envy when I witnessed how differently they respond to my sister and to me. My sister called and my father spent 20 minutes chatting with her. When I call, he asks me how I am doing and hands the phone to my mother.

My sister leads a traditional life, with a husband and kids and grandkids. I love my sister, but I don't want that life, never did. I don't even like my father all that much. But this really upset me. How can I get past this?

SISTER ENVY

One way is to consider that you're filling in blanks with your own assumptions versus facts. You imply this is about your father's approval of your sister's path, when it's entirely possible they just converse easily, for reasons that have nothing to do with "traditional" choices.

Your natural differences from your father could have been the start of a cycle, with these differences prompting you to make life choices very different from his, which gave you less in common, which robbed you of the very conversation aids that could have helped you bridge your natural incompatibility.

You say yourself that you don't even like him. Think about it: You can dislike him, but it feels like a ceiling collapse to consider that your dad doesn't like you. Why is that? Is your dislike for him a defense mechanism, or is it based on his personality? If the latter, why is it more of an indictment of you not to have your father's affection than it is an indictment of your dad not to have his child's?

Let's say instead that disliking him is your defense mechanism: "Yeah? Well, I don't like you, either." And let's say for the sake of argument that you're right, he's chatty with your sister only because he favors her and/or approves of her choices.

Then you have one question: What are you able and willing to do about it? You can progress only to the extent he wants to, of course, but making yourself vulnerable is the threshold you have to cross to find out how far he's willing to go.

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